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Former pro-basketball referee Tim Donaghy today admitted that he is addicted to gambling, and he pleaded guilty to felony charges in the worst betting scandal in NBA history. Donaghy faces a maximum of 25 years in prison.
NPR's Tom Goldman has more.
TOM GOLDMAN: In this summer of sports scandals, Tim Donaghy's transgressions were considered the worst of the bunch. Big-time sports reserve a special dark place for illegal gambling. Today in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn, New York, details began to emerge about what Donaghy did. He pleaded guilty to two felony charges - conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit gambling information through interstate commerce.
Two alleged co-conspirators, Thomas Martino and James Batista, a professional gambler, also had an initial court appearance today; they were released on bond. According to court documents, Donaghy started dealing with Batista and Martino last December. He would speak to them in code during telephone calls, giving recommendations or picks on which NBA teams to bet on. If the picks were right, the men paid Donaghy.
The information Donaghy provided wasn't public. He had unique access to information about which referees would officiate games, the interaction between certain officials and players, the physical condition of players.
The complaint also says Donaghy bet on games he officiated starting four years ago. That admission, however, was not part of the guilty plea. Before he was released on a $250,000 bond, Donaghy told the federal judge that he's seeing a doctor for his gambling addiction and that he is taking antidepressants. His attorney said after the hearing, Tim deeply regrets his involvement and especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and co-workers.
There was nothing said in court today that contradicts what NBA commissioner David Stern has said all along: that the scandal was limited to Donaghy.
But R.J. Bell, president of the sports betting information site Pregame.com, says there shouldn't be great comfort in the belief that Donaghy acted alone.
Mr. R.J. BELL (President, Pregame.com): One referee is less than two. I mean, that's simple logic. The question, though, is, is a single referee affecting, you know, dozens of games potentially throughout a season. That seems pretty significant.
GOLDMAN: Despite today's revelations, Bell wonders if the plea represents the whole story. Donaghy bet on games he officiated. Did he also fix games, Bell asks, by directly influencing the outcome with his calls? That, says Bell, is a much greater sin in the hierarchy of illegal gambling sins.
Tim Donaghy is expected to be sentenced in a hearing November 9th. In a statement released today, NBA commissioner Stern said, we will continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game.
A spokesman for NBA officials said, we recognize a cloud has descended upon all referees, but we are committed to showing the public that this was an isolated event and that NBA officiating is conducted at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and fairness.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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